The only #Unity ANC needs is a united stand against Mabuza
Mpumalanga premier's cynical ploy to control votes at the party conference must be foiled by a leadership pact
The much-anticipated ANC elective conference is upon us and the myth of seven presidential candidates has unravelled.
We are seeing a two-horse race between Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma taking shape. One of them will definitely lead the ANC, if the conference does not collapse - a possibility we cannot rule out given how tight a contest it might be.
The branches continue to speak through the consolidation of their nominations in various provincial general councils. By yesterday, Ramaphosa was leading the race with 904 branch nominations, against 736 for Dlamini-Zuma, based on outcomes from the Free State, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, North West, Western Cape and Northern Cape.
These numbers cannot be taken as final due to unresolved disputes, complaints and appeals from certain branches in some of those provinces . The political mavericks are hard at work to prevent certain branches from participating fully in the conference.
The outstanding three provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Limpopo, each have more than 500 delegates assigned to them for the national conference.
Again, not all those delegates will make it to the conference, for various reasons, including the political marginalisation of dissenting branches.
Given that Gauteng and Limpopo are most likely to support Ramaphosa, the race might crystallise towards victory for him.
But there is a catch. At the Mpumalanga provincial general council we learnt that 223 branches had chosen to abstain from choosing candidates, instead nominating "#Unity".
This prompted quips about the surname of the mysterious candidate called Unity - but the truth is that #Unity represents a political wolf in sheep's clothing. It is an invention of Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza to make himself indispensable in this leadership contest.
The influence of the man has become evident. Even in the Eastern Cape, he garnered 190 branch nominations for the deputy president position, falling behind the official nominee (Zweli Mkhize) of that province for the position only by three nominations.
Unity is an invention of David Mabuza to make himself indispensable in this leadership contest.
It seems one outcome we can now predict is that Mabuza will become the next deputy president of the ANC, irrespective of which of the two presidential candidates emerges victorious.
The only thing that would thwart his pronounced political ambitions is a pact between the two presidential candidates to accept the loser as a deputy. A combination of Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma in the presidency would no doubt be stronger than one that includes Mabuza.
Mabuza is a self-serving factionalist who is using his influence to advance his personal ambitions. He represents a crop of ANC leaders that have contributed immensely in the destruction of the movement and continue to do so.
Faceless unity is vulnerable to being a faction of one of the visible factions.
Mabuza has played his cards in such a way as to appear to have made no deal with any leader. That immunises the two presidential candidates from being perceived as having entered into a pact with the devil.
Any credible presidential candidate surely does not want Mabuza as their running mate.
Unfortunately, whoever emerges as president of the ANC will most likely have made some deal with Mabuza in some clandestine meeting.
If unity were Mpumalanga's pursuit, they would propose a leadership collective, give it a face and meaning, and attempt to influence other provinces to support their position.
Faceless unity is a scam used by the most cunning of politicians to occupy the moral high ground in the face of the helpless organisation that is the ANC.
Mabuza, a "former" member of the "premier league", increased the Mpumalanga delegation's allocated share from 467 in 2012 to 736 in 2017. That was a man at work. The other premier league provinces also posted significant growth, with North West growing its share by 304 delegates in the past five years.
Who will swing a deal with Mabuza? His former friends? Or has he made new friends? These questions have power brokers sweating and dialling Mpumalanga relentlessly.
The Dlamini-Zuma lobbyists were first off the mark, making Mabuza their deputy president nominee across their structures. Politically, that type of communication carries significant weight.
Ramaphosa announced a team that certainly did not feature Mabuza - a clear message that the latter is not viewed by all as a winner, and that some see him as a repellant.
The ANC's anachronistic internal voting process has come under attack many times.
This time around, to mitigate factionalism and the politics of slates, the directive was that provinces would consolidate the nominations as received from branches.
Previously, delegates to the national conference would come together in a provincial general council and vote for their preferred candidates.
Given that the national conference is a conference of branches and that these branches are said to be the nucleus of the organisation, surely their voice is supreme?
What should be happening at the national conference is that all branch nominations are consolidated to reflect a leadership preference of the branches - the so-called power holders in the ANC.
Who will swing a deal with Mabuza? His former friends? Or has he made new friends?
The fact that delegates will still vote at the national conference circumvents the very ambition to do away with slate politics and vote-buying, because inevitably some delegates will be enticed with money to change the mandate given to them by their branches.
It seems factionalism will still win the day, even at this conference.
The biggest test of whether Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma want to truly serve the interests of the party they profess to dedicate themselves to, is whether they will agree to work together in the best interests of the ANC and make sure that Mabuza does not become deputy president of the movement.
Mnguni is a PhD intern researcher in the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal